Show: DRACULA’S GUEST
Society: London (professional shows)
Venue: White Bear Theatre. 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4DJ
Credits: Presented by Brother Wolf. Based on the works of Bram Stoker. Adapted, Produced and Directed by James Hyland. Performed by Ashton Spear and James Hyland. Music by Chris Warner
Author: Susan Elkin
Performance Date: 07/07/2022
Susan Elkin | 08 Jul 2022 23:46pm
James Hyland is very good indeed at adapting classic texts and coming at them from a fresh point of view. I’ve seen him in at least three one-man takes on nineteenth century novels being both powerful and riveting. This time it’s a two hander, very focused adaptation with the excellent Ashton Spear as Renfield against Hyland’s own Count Dracula. At just sixty minutes it’s appropriately succinct. It would be hard to sustain (or to watch) such relentless intensity for much longer.
Bram Stoker’s famous 1897 novel is epistolary and, therefore set in various places. Hyland’s version is staged in one claustrophobic room in Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania with a minimalist set: two chairs, a table, a pig’s head and a sword – along with a menacing musical box.
Hyland is magnificent and terrifying. His voice ranges from soft cajoling to what a musician would call a subito fortissimo and he does it repeatedly so that neither you, the audience member, or Renfield within the play can relax for a second. He is a very dangerous man (or something) and the dramatic tension is sharply arresting. Somehow the fact that Hyland in this role looks like the then Prince of Wales (who became Edward VII four years after Dracula was published) makes it feel all the more shocking. And although there’s nothing as corny or predictable as pointy teeth the scenes in which Dracula attacks Renfield fall somewhere between a hideous macabre dance and a rape.
The synergy between these two actors, as they spar around each other in what is effectively a power struggle, is what drives this fine show. Moreover I have rarely seen a more convincing account of on-stage insanity building to a manic climax than Spear’s work here. And the finale with fake blood is masterly. It could easily degenerate into melodrama. In the event it’s horrifyingly realistic.